Innovative technologies and best practices that are cost-effective for small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) and small agri-businesses for reducing food waste along the value chain include improved packaging, cold chain management, 100% utilization, and secondary uses for foods that for some reason do not enter the traditional marketing pathways (Kitinoja 2016).
Improved packaging is big business, but many of the innovative packaging systems developed for large scale agriculture have been successfully adapted or modified for use by smallholders. These include modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) for fruits, the use of very thin, vented polyethylene produce bags for reducing water loss in fruits and vegetables, smart packaging, and small PICS bags (triple layer hermetically sealed plastic bags) for pesticide free home storage of grains and dry beans. PICS bags prevent moisture, air and light from damaging the stored foods and kills insects when the oxygen concentration falls below a threshold percentage in the sealed package.
Food Magazine (2015) described a few of these innovations: "The terms active packaging and smart packaging refer to packaging systems used with foods, pharmaceuticals, and several other types of products. They help extend shelf life, monitor freshness, display information on quality, improve safety, and improve convenience. More recently this has been updated to include intelligent functions (sensing, detecting, recording, tracing, communicating and applying scientific logic) in order to extend shelf life, enhance safety, improve quality, provide information and warn about possible issues."
Cold chain management is a complex topic, but there are many small-scale methods and simple cooling/cold storage equipment that can be used by retailers and home use to reduce food waste. Use of a low cost Zero Energy Cool Chamber (ZECC) on the farm or at home for temporary storage of perishable foods, using a CoolBot™ equipped cold room for food storage in a restaurant or retail shop, and using ice in retail displays can all help to reduce food waste. Recent literature reviews on the cold chain were undertaken by The Postharvest Education Foundation and IMechE, and provide many examples of cost effective practices (IMechE 2014; PEF 2013). Learning how best to use a home refrigerator seems like a simple issue that does not require a lot of thought, but misuse can greatly increase food waste and may create food safety problems.
Way back in the 1980s Dr. S. K. Roy (the inventor of the ZECC) began promoting "100% utilization" of perishable foods produced in India. He developed many systems for using the portions of the plants that were typically discarded, including using the leaf trimmings of cauliflower to make high quality green vegetable powder, bottling a whole tomato concentrate, and drying overripe mangoes to make nutritious and low cost fruit powders, fruit roll-ups and confectionary products. Postharvest training teams based at Amity University in Uttar Pradesh worked with the World Food Logistics organization on cost/benefit analyses and field trials during 2009-10 and are currently disseminating many of these food processing practices in many rural communities in India (Raman and Dubey, 2014).
Secondary, non-food uses for foods that are discarded during harvest, postharvest handling, processing or distribution include bio-gas production, animal feeds or composting. The technologies used in each of these fields are relatively simple and can be implemented on an individual, group or community scale as desired.
This blog post is based on a major review article on food loss and waste issues prepared for the Brookings Institution's Ending Rural Hunger Project. For further information you can read the original review article and cited reports.
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Food Magazine (2015). http://www.foodmag.com.au/features/controlling-food-losses-through-better-packaging
IMechE 2013. Global food: waste not, want not. Jan 2013
Kitinoja, Lisa. 2016. "Innovative Approaches to Food Loss and Waste Issues," Frontier Issues Brief for the Brookings Institution's Ending Rural Hunger project.
PEF 2013. Use of cold chains for reducing food losses in developing countries. White Paper No. 13-03. (December 2013). La Pine, Oregon USA: The Postharvest Education Foundation. 16pp
Raman, N.L.M. and N. Dubey (2014). Panchayat and Economic empowerment of rural women by hands on Training. American International Journal of Research in Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, 5(2), December 2013-February 2014, pp. 249-252.